Times Past

Public libraries are more popular than ever in this information age

Special to The TribuneFebruary 22, 2014 

A young library patron is in her element at the 2013 San Luis Obispo Friends of the Library book sale.

COURTESY OF SLO FRIEDNS OF THE LIBRARY

By December 1894, “the funds in the treasury were so low that it was found necessary to close the library in the evening to save the expense of light.”

This 120-year-old report in The Tribune speaks to the precarious funding for the San Luis Obispo City Library in the Andrews Bank building. A century later, with the coming of computers and the internet, many “experts” predicted the end of libraries as they had been known.

Happily, “the information age” has had the opposite effect. Public libraries are used more than ever. As a result, Cambria has just opened a new library more than twice the size of the previous one and Atascadero is about to do the same.

Lauri Sweeny and her granddaughter, Dani Ponce, age 13, a former student at Hawthorne School, recently came by our home with some delightful books for Hawthorne. Lauri shared what libraries and books meant in her life.

“In 1961 my family moved to San Luis Obispo County. I was 10 years old. We moved from the Los Angeles area and the rural landscape of Atascadero was very beautiful and curious for my three brothers and me. Atascadero still had an operator that you had to go through to place a phone call and we were on a party line!

“The first thing I took care of was getting my library card. The library was located in the Atascadero Memorial Building, which always smelled clean and wonderful. My favorite book that year was ‘The Secret World of Og.’ Life was very good.

“The summer between seventh and eighth grade, I babysat a 3-year-old boy, the great-nephew of a beloved Paso Robles teacher, Kermit King. I stayed all week with this family and went home to Atascadero on the weekends. I immediately became a regular patron of the Paso Robles Library, which was located in the park in a beautiful building funded by Andrew Carnegie. I read ALL of the Cherry Ames Nurse books that summer.

“In 1965 or ‘66 our family bought a small restaurant in Avila Beach. We were there for two years and worked so hard I barely remember reading. I do remember reading ‘Desperate Hours,’ about a family being held hostage. I also read ‘Kidnap,’ the story of the Lindbergh baby kidnapping. Both of these books were checked out of the San Luis Obispo City Library where the Little Theater is now. After reading the Lindbergh story, I became a devoted fan of Anne Morrow Lindbergh and have read everything she wrote.

“When I was 18, I visited several times with Adela Rogers St. John. She was staying for an extended time at the Madonna Inn writing a book. She shared some great stories with me, one being her experience as William Randolph Hearst’s first woman reporter. She covered the trial of Lindbergh kidnapper Bruno Hauptmann for Mr. Hearst’s papers.

“After selling our restaurant, we moved into San Luis Obispo. I was a frequent visitor to the county library behind the Health Department on Bishop Street, across from General Hospital.

“The books and libraries that San Luis Obispo County has to offer have been much used and loved by me.”

We just spoke with Lauri, who was sitting at a computer station in the amazing, user-friendly, seven- story Vancouver, British Columbia public library. Lauri’s returning to SLO in time for the book sale!

The San Luis Obispo Friends of the Library book sale has raised more than $100,000 for library programs and special needs over the past eight years. Members only pre-sale will be Thursday, March 6, 6 - 9 p.m. (memberships sold at the door). Everyone is welcome Friday, March 7, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Saturday, March 8, 9 a.m.- 2 p.m. in the Veterans Memorial Building, 801 Grand Ave. (near the corner of Grand and Monterey).

There are thousands of wonderful, gently used children’s and adult books, fiction and nonfiction, DVDs and reasonably-priced rare books just waiting for someone like you to adopt.

Dan Krieger's column is special to The Tribune. He is a professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly and president of the California Mission Studies Association

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